IRobot Unveils Compliant "Jamming" End Effector (Robot Hand)

Particle Jamming End-Effector

At IROS 2009, IRobot demonstrated an interesting form of locomotion dubbed "particle jamming skin" (to create what became known as the "blob bot").  The robot was creepy, but the concept was interesting.  In a recently available TEDMED 2009 talk (embedded below), IRobot CEO Colin Angle describes a unique particle jamming end effector (robot hand) for manipulation.  By selectively inflating or deflating, the particle jamming end effector can change from a liquid-like state to ooze around a target object and then harden into a solid-like state to grasp or pickup the object.  Colin shows a video of a PackBot with particle jamming end effector picking up medication, keys, and a (dummy) patient's arm.  He also does a live demonstration using a hand-held particle jamming system.  Be sure to check out the video and stills below -- they will help you understand this bizarre (but compelling) robot hand.

The TEDMED 2009 video -- the scenes of interest begin at 14:20.


A few screen captures from the video:

IRobot Jamming End Effector
A close-up of the jamming end effector.  Right now it is (presumably) positively pressurized and in a liquid-like state.
IRobot Jamming End Effector
The end effector is (compliantly) pressed upon an object (medication bottle).
IRobot Jamming End Effector
Negatively pressurizing changes the end effector to a solid-like state, latching onto the object of interest for grasping / pickup.
IRobot Jamming End Effector
Jamming end effector lifting a plastic bottle.
IRobot Jamming End Effector
And a set of keys.
IRobot Jamming End Effector
Lifting a (dummy) patient's hand.
IRobot Jamming End Effector
Colin Angle demonstrating a hand-held jamming end effector to pick up a medication bottle.


For those who are uninitiated to the concept of "particle jamming," there was an IROS 2009 paper by some IRobot folks entitled, "The first steps of a robot based on jamming skin enabled locomotion."  The associated video (from our friends at the IEEE Spectrum Automation Blog) explains nicely:


Or if you prefer an explanation through pictures:

Particle Jamming "Blob Robot"


I'm not sure how, when, or where this new end effector will be used.  However, I think it is an interesting development in the land of clever / unique robot hands and definitely typifies out-of-the-box thinking.



Holy cow!  I just saw a comment on by Courteous_Gentleman showing a picture of Vac-Man. 

Vac-Man toy


I remember this toy (from the mid-1990s); my friend Kevin had one.  I also recall embedding objects in its hand using the vacuum pump.  It's funny how ideas work...


—Travis Deyle